It’s a fact so well-known, it’s almost a self-fulfilling prophecy: 20% of small businesses fail in the first two years. More than 45% fail in the first five.
It’s understandable, then, that so many entrepreneurs struggle to make their mark on the world before age 30. And those who do become legends: Mark Zuckerberg with Facebook, Jennifer Carter Fleiss with Rent the Runway, Palmer Luckey with Oculus VR.
Among them, and well on her way to “legendary,” is 29-year-old Cimone Key: business owner and self-described “creativepreneur.” Since October 2015, she’s owned and operated her own branding and design agency, Cimone Key Creative Studio. Notable clients include Amazon, Neiman Marcus, and Sally Beauty Supply.
Cimone ‘s dream, since she was 16, was to have her own business and become a graphic designer. She took those dreams to the Art Institute of Dallas, where she received her bachelor’s. Then, to get a better idea of the industry and business in general, she got a job with an advertising agency.
Three and a half years later, Cimone made good on her dreams by starting her own design firm. But that’s not all.
Cimone is an out-of-the-box thinker. So rather than simply using her Dallas office for her own design work, she’s converted part of her studio into CK Creative Desk.
It’s a co-working space that gives fellow creatives a leg up with access to a broadcast booth, photography area, and event center. Cimone also uses the studio to hold regular community gatherings and classes, where other growth-minded entrepreneurs can learn and connect.
Photographer: Christa Egusquiza
Now, on the fifth anniversary of founding her business, Cimone is sharing her story on screen with her series, Black Creative Table.
Each episode features real-world tips and tricks for making it as a small business owner. Best of all, Cimone isn’t afraid to get vulnerable with her audience. Many of her secrets to success are rooted in personal experience, where she hopes her entrepreneurial hindsight might be someone else’s 20/20.
For example, in one video, Cimone shares her experience with hiring a fraudulent CPA. The event led her to manage her own QuickBooks account, which she uses daily to manage her business’s books.*
About Black Creative Table
We wanted to know more about Cimone’s YouTube series, so we sat down with her for a virtual interview.
Tell us about your videos. What inspired you to start Black Creative Table?
I wanted to create a safe space where entrepreneurs could talk about finances, mental health—anything and everything we experience as a culture. I always hear the phrase, ‘Can we have a seat at the table?’ So I’m sharing my experiences, my perspective, and my challenges at my own table and inviting others to join.
As someone seeking to coach and lead other creativepreneurs, what challenges did you encounter in the early days of owning your own business?
Being a creative—more of a right-brain thinker—it was difficult for me to learn the business side at first. Most creatives, like me, are used to having somebody else manage us. But to be a business owner, I had to learn the business side: finances, budgeting, managing and delegating to team members, and working with subcontractors. It’s been a learning experience. I’m still learning a lot every day.
What part has race played in your work, and what role does it play in your mission with Black Creative Table?
I’ve noticed, in the advertising world, sometimes they get it wrong when they try to reach out to diverse target audiences. I want my agency to be the kind of business Fortune 500 companies and others can come to to get it right. Anything that you’re trying to advertise to a diverse target audience or a multicultural audience if that makes sense.
I guess you could say we are the people who can sit with you and say, ‘Maybe you should do it this way or that way for the ad campaign so that it’s not offensive.’
As for Black Creative Table, I personally didn’t really have someone to look up to for entrepreneurship, especially in the creative field. It’s difficult to find a mentor when so many creatives work for an agency or someone else. I wanted to be someone others could look up to, who knows the ins and outs of being an entrepreneur—a creativepreneur.
I also wanted to do it because a lot of people look up to me, especially my peers and family members. I wanted to show them that they can do it too because I don’t really see that in my culture or even in a lot of people my age. People think it’s rare to see someone who looks like me, who has a business and space, pushing toward their dream. Now I have a platform where I can share my story and my knowledge.
While the videos won’t be political, I do plan on discussing some of the things specific to black creatives. Things that I’ve noticed throughout my five years and even in the advertising agencies that I’ve been in.
Photographer: Monet Makil
Cimone shares her QuickBooks experience
If you watch Cimone’s video about QuickBooks, you’ll hear she’s using it to manage tasks like payroll and accounting. So we asked her what inspired her to discuss QuickBooks with her audience.
“I wanted to create a video about QuickBooks because I always get questions like, ‘How did you start your business? How do you do budgeting? What do you use for your books or finances?’ And for me, QuickBooks has provided such an amazing experience. It has everything I need.”
Cimone uses QuickBooks Online primarily. But she loves add-ons like Payments and Payroll.
“I managed my subcontractors through there when I was just starting out, and then I was able to hire someone back in May. It was just an easy transition. Before, I was paying her as an intern. Now, she’s a full-time employee.”
Other features Cimone uses are invoicing and auto-reminders. She says it helps to have software that makes it easier to collect payment from clients.
“A couple of months ago, I noticed QuickBooks added a feature where you can attach a late fee in your settings. I love that part.”
And late fees are just one way that creatives like Cimone can incentivize clients to pay on time. In QuickBooks, business owners can also send clients automated reminders, and customers can pay through the invoice directly.
Cimone also appreciates how easily QuickBooks connects to every part of her business.
“I love how QuickBooks integrates with different apps and tools. Everything from employee health insurance to time tracking. There are so many resources inside of QuickBooks, making it a one-stop-shop that can continuously grow with me.”
But there’s one integration Cimone says she enjoys in particular: the fact she can share her QuickBooks account with her trusted CPA. You see, while Cimone’s journey to QuickBooks may have started with a fraudulent bookkeeper, her current CPA is someone she can count on. And with QuickBooks, it’s easy for Cimone and her CPA to stay on the same page regarding the business’s finances.
“QuickBooks is so accessible. My CPA can log in, look at my books, and send over reports if I need something. I just love that it’s simple and easy to use, even for someone who didn’t go to school for accounting or financing, like me. I just love it.”
*Cimone’s QuickBooks video was not produced, paid for, or sponsored by Intuit QuickBooks.
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